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Two Jeffco Students named as Kids Making a Difference

Two Jeffco Students named as 7 Colorado Kids Making a Difference
Posted on 11/04/2019
Andrew Ellis, North Arvada Middle School 8th grader, helps write grant to secure new obstacle course play areaby Jamie Siebrase

Filling a Community Fitness Need

Andrew Ellis, 13, Arvada
The best social entrepreneurs are the ones who identify a gap in the market and fill it. That’s exactly what 13-year-old Andrew Ellis did.

“There wasn’t a lot happening during recess,” recalls Andrew, an eighth-grader at North Arvada Middle School. So last year, Andrew came up with the idea of turning an underutilized patch of asphalt into a welcoming park his classmates, and the surrounding community, could enjoy. As part of a middle school STEM elective, Andrew was allowed to create his own class project. He pitched the playground idea to his teacher, Erin Fichtel, and she gladly approved it.

But taking a large-scale project like a park from idea to implementation is a big undertaking. “You have to be willing to commit to the project,” Andrew says. For him, that meant using free time to survey classmates and teachers, draft designs, and apply for a grant. “You can’t be afraid to ask for help,” Andrew adds. He called on Fichtel to walk him through the process of applying for a Great Outdoors Colorado (GOCO) grant, a program funded through Colorado Lottery proceeds to preserve and enhance open spaces.

It took Andrew months to complete a series of essays for the grant. “Ms. Fichtel did a lot of work,” Andrew says, noting that his teacher helped him conduct focus groups that informed the park’s ultimate design.

After accepting Andrew’s grant in early 2019, GOCO awarded Andrew’s school $110,000. To unlock funding, North Arvada Middle School contributed an additional $35,000, and Jeffco Public Schools provided $35,000, for a total of $180,000. Over the summer, developers installed a ninja-warrior style obstacle course, swings, and jungle gym across a newly constructed greenspace. Now, Andrew and his peers have a place to play during recess, and it’s a community asset too: Andrew enjoys seeing neighborhood families use the playground on the weekends.

Madhvi Chitoor starts eco-awareness campaign about plasticsLeading Environmental Efforts

Madhvi Chittoor, 8, Arvada
Madhvi Chittoor joined the climate change movement when she was five years old, after watching a CNN documentary on pollution. “I love animals, and [the documentary] made me want to raise awareness about plastic and Styrofoam killing animals,” Madhvi explains.

With her mom, Lalitha Chittoor, Madhvi distributed paper straws to shoppers at Colorado Mills, in Lakewood, and the Arvada Centerplace Shopping Center in April of 2017. The duo returned to both shopping centers again in 2018 and 2019, handing out approximately 800 straws while raising awareness about plastic pollution in celebration of Earth Day. In November 2017, the two also founded a nonprofit organization, Madhvi4EcoEthics.

Madhvi uses her creativity to advance her eco-conscious mission. In 2017, she entered her story, “Is Plastic My Food?,” into a Jeffco Public Schools district-wide writing competition, and won. The book, which Lalitha published through Pranav Enterprises last year, earned Madhvi a letter of recognition from National Geographic.

To create awareness about polystyrene in local waterways, Madhvi built a sculpture out of Styrofoam, which was on display in the Colorado State Capitol Building. The young activist also met with former Governor John Hickenlooper and Governor Jared Polis about expanding on Earth Day by declaring April as Plastic and Styrofoam Pollution Awareness Month throughout the state of Colorado.

As a youth ambassador for the Plastic Pollution Coalition, Madhvi worked with a group of like-minded individuals from Jeffco Public Schools to host a drive to replace her school’s Styrofoam plates with a more environmentally conscious choice. This year, her school, Hackberry Hill Elementary, along with several others in the district, switched to compostable products in the cafeteria, diverting an estimated 7.6 million Styrofoam plates from local landfills annually.

(article originally appeared at, 10-22-2019)
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